Tensions surfaced between students and some officials Tuesday night as the school district’s Board of Trustees put into motion a plan to restore classes slashed under crippling budgets.
The proposal—still in the earliest of stages—calls for the creation of an education foundation that would restore about 100 courses eliminated in the wake of reduced state funding.
The cost to enroll in the classes would likely be significantly higher than the fees that California students pay——but less than at California state universities and University of California, as well as for-profit colleges such as the University of Phoenix.
“[We’re] looking to figure out how you can have classes here that will cost you less if you happen to be locked out of what the state will fund,” Trustee Louise Jaffe told the students who oppose the proposal. “I don’t know what else we can do.”
She and the rest of board voted to continue developing details of the plan, which will be rolled out as a pilot this summer.
Since 2008, Santa Monica College has cut its course offerings 15.4 percent, and officials warned Tuesday that the number could hit 23 percent if a November ballot initiative to raise taxes fails.
"It is impossible to provide a specific count of the number of students SMC
has turned away during this period, or to quantify the financial and personal costs to the many students who have been involuntarily under-enrolled or unable to enroll in the classes they need to make degree progress," College President Chui L. Tsang wrote in a memo to the board.
There are system-wide estimates, Tsang wrote, that indicate that hundreds of thousands of students have been turned away from California community colleges since 2008-09.
"We can starve all of the programs until it gets to the point where no one can stand it anymore and the state is forced to react—or we do something now," he said.
But the solution to offer "contract classes" is unpopular among members of the student government at Santa Monica College.
They said college should be looking at ways to return complete state funding to community colleges—the most affordable higher-education system in California.
"This is the absolute wrong direction," Harrison Wills, president of the Associated Student Body, told Patch after the meeting.
It would create a divide among those students who could afford the contract classes and those who couldn't, students argued.
"Having some [organization] come here and charge me $200 a unit? I can’t afford that … what about my education? What about my success? As a student I vote 'no,' " said one student.
About 100 students, many of them energized by their participation in the March in March in Sacramento, packed the meeting to protest. They said trustees should join them in organizing rallies to pass taxes on the wealthy. Some said they would prefer to go so far as shutting down of the school in protest.
"The jail unions are getting more money than us," said Wills. "We need to address the real problem for what it is."
After voting to approve the plan, students began chanting demands about their desire for affordable and equal access to education, prompting the board to take a recess. Outside board chambers, dozens cornered Tsang, seeking answers to questions about his salary and the college’s reserve funds. Some said the top administrators should take pay cuts, and others suggested that now is the time to tap into the savings.
Tsang responded to some of their questions before walking away in a huff.
Trustee David Finkel called the students' ideas for action brilliant but impractical.
Shutting down the school, he said, would only further hinder students’ access to education. The "enemy" is anyone who opposes raising taxes to pay for “important” social welfare and education programs, he told the students.
“If we can be a people's college and use the tool of contract education in a constructive way, I don’t think we should be afraid of it,” he said.
Trustees promised they will ensure that there are scholarships and financial aid available to California resident students who can't afford the courses.